Focus on the Family chairman James Dobson is waging a media campaign to counter what he claims are inaccurate reports that he said SpongeBob SquarePants is gay.
“It is not unusual for me to be unfairly criticized by the secular media, but rarely have I been subjected to a more mean-spirited, inaccurate and sarcastic diatribe than this statement from the pen of a Christian academic,” Dobson wrote last month in a response to a Holland Sentinel column by Hope College professor Miguel De La Torre, which also appeared in EthicsDaily.com.
On Tuesday Dobson accused Fox News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly of misreporting his concern.
On his “Talking Points” feature Monday night, O’Reilly said: “SpongeBob is a sponge. He’s not cruising the bars in West Hollywood.”
The conservative commentator went on to warn: “Culture warriors on both sides have got to get a grip. There’s danger in fanatical policy. But paranoia makes a danger harder to illuminate. You won’t be taken seriously if you cry wolf too often.”
The Focus on the Family Web site called O’Reilly’s comments “a thinly veiled swipe” at Dobson. The article says Dobson “has been widely misquoted in the media for questioning the use of SpongeBob and other beloved children’s characters in a ‘tolerance’ video produced by a group with a history of advocating for pro-gay causes.”
“Although O’Reilly’s staff has been informed in writing that the SpongeBob controversy is based solely on media spin, the ‘No Spin Zone’ can’t seem to get its facts straight,” the statement continued.
“It does not matter what the secular media says about me. In the final analysis, who cares?” Dobson wrote in a Feb. 5 newsletter column titled “Setting the Record Straight.”
“What is vitally important, however, are the children of this country and the effort being made to manipulate them for political purposes.”
Despite that acknowledgement, Dobson has taken time to appear on MSNBC’s Scarborough Country and The Michael Regan Show to address the controversy.
The New York Times first reported Dobson’s remarks at a black-tie event celebrating President Bush’s inauguration in Washington.
“Does anybody here know SpongeBob?” Dobson asked, prompting nods of recognition. Dobson went on to say SpongeBob’s creators had enlisted him in a “pro-homosexual video,” in which he appeared alongside children’s television colleagues like Barney and Jimmy Neutron. The makers of the video, he said, planned to mail it to thousands of elementary schools to promote a “tolerance pledge” that includes tolerance for differences of “sexual identity.”
Dobson called reports that he said SpongeBob is a homosexual “erroneous” and said “nothing could be farther from the truth.”
Dobson said what actually happened is that he took time in an address to congressional leaders to voice concern over a video being distributed to elementary schools featuring SpongeBob among a host of more than 100 additional cartoon and puppet characters from children’s television and merchandising.
Dobson said the video itself is “relatively harmless and is devoid of any sexual content,” but “is being incorporated into a larger campaign, created by an organization called the We Are Family Foundation, to teach ‘tolerance’ to young children.”
“Unfortunately, rather than simply encouraging tolerance of those who come from different cultural, religious or socio-economic backgrounds–which we believe is a worthy objective–the curriculum also contains material designed to encourage young children to celebrate homosexual behavior,” a statement on Dobson’s Web site complained.
The We Are Family Foundation denies having a pro-gay agenda and blamed the whole thing on a misunderstanding over a homosexual-advocacy Web site with a similar name. The “tolerance pledge” on the foundation Web site is from the Southern Poverty Law Center’s national campaign for tolerance.
“Tolerance is a personal decision that comes from a belief that every person is a treasure. I believe that America’s diversity is its strength. I also recognize that ignorance, insensitivity and bigotry can turn that diversity into a source of prejudice and discrimination,” the pledge reads.
“To help keep diversity a wellspring of strength and make America a better place for all, I pledge to have respect for people whose abilities, beliefs, culture, race, sexual identity or other characteristics are different from my own.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.